As her two predecessors face the possibility of prison time, Buncombe County’s new manager highlighted the importance of restoring trust in county government during her first remarks to members of the public.
“Today we begin anew,” said Avril Pinder, who most recently served as the deputy county manager for New Hanover County. “We will work to rebuild the public’s trust. We will continue to focus on delivering on our strategic priorities to make Buncombe the best place to work, live and play.
“My goal is that with every contact with Buncombe County — from A, animal control, to Z, zoning, and everything in between — you will find us responsive to your needs, ethical in our behavior and easy to do business with,” Pinder continued.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to appoint Pinder as county manager during a special meeting on Feb. 5, making her the first woman of color to serve in that role. Buncombe County expects Pinder’s first day to be Monday, March 4. Interim County Manager George Wood has been handling the county’s day-to-day operations since his appointment in June 2018.
Pinder inherits a position previously held by Wanda Greene and Mandy Stone, both of whom pleaded guilty in January to crimes committed during their time in office. She said that restoring trust in Buncombe’s government involves reinforcing the county’s core values among all staff members.
“Are we being responsible? Are we being caring to our citizens? Are we being honest? So that’s one thing that every department, when I have our first meeting, that’s going to be drilled into every department head,” Pinder explained after the meeting, “and I want that going down to every single level of the organization.”
Commissioner Al Whitesides said Pinder stood out to him throughout the application process and that, after interviewing her twice, it was “crystal clear” she was the person the commissioners should appoint.
“If we are looking for qualifications … it’s no comparison to the 40 other applicants that we had. And I’ll stake my reputation on that,” he said.
After Pinder earned an MBA from Delaware State University, said Board Chair Brownie Newman, she worked from 1990 to 1995 as an accountant in the private sector. From 1995 to 2006, she served as the assistant finance director and community development director for Jacksonville, North Carolina, before New Hanover County hired her as its finance manager in 2006. The county promoted her to assistant county manager six years later, a role in which she was responsible for property management, information technology, finance and human resources.
In a statement sent out after Pinder’s appointment, Buncombe County noted a handful of her professional accomplishments, which include obtaining New Hanover County’s first Triple-A bond rating and establishing a pool of private banks for startup businesses to obtain loans.
Pinder said commissioners have already laid out a roadmap for her to follow, pointing to several items the board included on its list of strategic priorities in December 2017, including affordable housing.
As the board’s newest member, Commissioner Amanda Edwards said, she took the task of appointing a new manager very seriously. “Mrs. Pinder is going to be tasked with serving as a non-partisan professional for Buncombe County who charts the course for us as we move forward,” she said. “Under her leadership, it’s a new day in Buncombe County.”
Commissioner Joe Belcher believes that Buncombe is in the process of “exiting that storm” caused by the federal investigation into county officials and that enough policy changes have been made to set the stage for a successful transition to a new manager.
“I think a lot of that has been done,” he said. “Now someone can come in and work on their style and personality and culture and try to bring the team together and keep them together.”
When commissioners were narrowing down their finalists, Belcher said, Pinder was the only candidate that the board unanimously wanted to bring back for another interview. Belcher said she was engaging and interacted well with department heads.
“I can’t teach you how to treat people,” he said. “I can try to instill those soft skills … but some people it’s very natural. It’s very natural for her.”
According to her contract with the county, Pinder’s base annual salary will be $198,000. Pinder will also receive annual performance evaluations beginning on July 1. Those evaluations will be the basis for any salary increases beyond adjustments tied to the consumer price index.